Appreciation and Joy

Several weeks ago a man complained to me about how negative his group is — men constantly checking in sad, angry and scared, working on places where they are unhappy with their lives. At first, I resisted this man’s viewpoint and found myself saying, “Yeah, but these men are simply being honest.” Men’s honesty is an important part of connecting with themselves and others.

And over the last five years, I have come to believe that God wants us to feel these more negative emotions, attend to them, speak them and ultimately move through them back to joy.

In John 17, on the eve of his deepest suffering, Jesus prayed that his followers might have the full measure of his joy. Amazing — though Jesus had suffered rejection and would soon suffer a brutal execution, still he had joy in his human life with pain. With his followers remaining in this life, Jesus prayed that they might still somehow know joy as he has.

Six months ago, I reconnected with a high school classmate who has suffered much — an early divorce, a brother dying early, and left to run her father’s business. She has lost much and lives in constant sadness. Yet Jesus prays that she will feel her legitimate sadness and move through it back to the joy that human, suffering Jesus experienced.

The Christians in Thessalonica recently suffered the death of some friends and family. And still Paul ends his letter saying, “Be joyful always. Pray continuously. Give thanks in all circumstances.”

Ordinary human life is marked by loss, and God longs for us to feel sadness, anger and fear, be heard, comforted and validated in these feelings and move through them back to joy. My high school classmate — God means for her to rest in joy, not sadness.

And Paul suggests that practicing appreciation, along with prayer, somehow returns us to joy.

Over the last 7-8 years, the practice of appreciation has changed me. I’ve told my daughter how much I appreciate her beautiful focus on her young boys, voiced gratitude for how my younger son asks such thoughtful questions in our conversations and appreciated my twelve-year-old grandson for his immense curiosity about how things work.  Feeling and voicing gratitude lifts my spirit.

I learn how something works and then break it into steps for others. The practice of appreciation begins with searching for things that are good. Secondly, appreciation comes from seeing. If we seek good things, we will see them. Next comes sensing, feeling the gratitude rise in us as we notice the good. And finally, we speak this gratitude. Speaking solidifies our gratitude and starts appreciation in the person to whom are speaking.

Early this morning I learned that a young man I love was arrested for a DUI. I feel scared — what will this mean for his future? Angry — I desire for him humility to get the help he needs. Sad — the loss of progress, the heavy shame he is feeling.

And I’m remembering how much progress he has made this year. I am appreciating how tender and thoughtful he is toward others. I am grateful for God’s view of this man, assured by how tender Jesus was to the man crippled for years.

In the men’s group that I lead, I have been asking them to recall something that caused them to smile, helping them practice appreciation.   

In this good human life, we feel frustration, fear, sadness, and we need to be heard, and God longs for us to get back to joy, often by asking God’s help and appreciating the good nearby.

Reflect and act …

  • Ponder the people around you and notice something you appreciate. Sit and feel this for a few minutes.
  • Try this practice — search for the good, see it, sense gratitude, speak it.

By John Casey

John completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2005, is a graduate of our two-year transformational program and is a weekend leader for The Crucible Project. He enjoys writing about authentic living for men. As a senior pastor for 32 years, he has written and preached hundreds of sermons on God’s character and mission, our purpose and mission, spiritual transformation and effective relationships.

Photo Credit: John Dizon via Creative Commons